Bringing the Story Home: Tips for Documenting Your Field Experience

Summer is a time for backyard barbeques, poolside afternoons and weekend hikes. And for many, the slower summer schedule provides the perfect opportunity for amping up volunteer efforts. Whether you’re building schools, assessing wells or installing solar panels, you’re often so caught up in the work that you forget to step back and capture the story.

Sharing your volunteer experience can inspire others to learn more, get involved and even donate to the cause! If you’re one of the many Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) members heading out for a field visit this summer or staying state-side and volunteering in your own community, here are some helpful tips for sharing a powerful project story.

The Story

Laying a strong foundation is key to great storytelling. Time is a precious commodity in the field, so use these questions as a starting point for crafting your narrative:

  • What? Explain the specific project you are working on and the issue it addresses. For example, the “what” may be a community-based purification system for a village of 350 people who previously had no ready access to potable water.
  • When? When did the project begin? When did it end or when will it end? Establish a timeline that will help others understand how key events unfolded.
  • Where? Be specific when describing the country, region, province, town and village where the project is located.
  • Who? Introduce key project participants. For each person you write about, include their name, a short description of who that person is and what role he or she plays in the community and in the project.
  • Why? Explain the project’s intended outcome. How will the project benefit the local community and why is it important?
  • Create an emotional connection. Connect readers to an individual (or family) and highlight how this project changed their life. Direct quotes are essential for helping those outside your project sphere understand the impact of your work.

The Visuals

Pictures are an essential ingredient for bringing your words to life. With these quick tips, you can tell a powerful visual story while keeping the needs of the community a priority.

  • Put the community first. Assessing and complying with local traditions is critical for maintaining a respectful relationship with your community. Remember: When in the field, EWB-USA volunteers must acquire explicit permission before photographing or videoing community members.
  • Keep it positive. Here at EWB-USA, our approach to photography is to focus on hope not guilt, empowerment not despair. Ensure photographs and videos present subjects in a dignified and respectful manner, while maintaining an honest representation of the situations and facts.
  • Plan ahead. Preparing a shot sheet can help you stay focused and organized while saving valuable camera storage. To help connect others to EWB-USA’s work across the globe, we look for shots that:
    • Show people working — the project and humans
    • Reveal personality and character
    • Show EWB-USA volunteers with community members
    • Challenge stereotypes
    • Capture empowerment

Get Packed & Bring Stories Back

Keep these tips on-hand during your next trip by printing the Field Guide: Documenting Your EWB-USA Experience. You can also learn more about EWB-USA’s approach to storytelling, from key messaging to informed consent, in our updated Brand Guidelines.

We want to hear from you! With your help, we can connect the entire EWB-USA community to our hundreds of projects around the world. When you return from the field, share your stories and photos with for a chance to be featured on our blog!